Alex Rodriguez has signed with the William Morris Agency. Apparently A-Rod believes the Hollywood talent agency will help him extend his brand beyond sports.
The arrangement presumably will involve business affairs and marketing endeavors, but William Morris is best known for representing actors and entertainers. It seems every modern athlete fancies himself a budding actor, even though recent history suggests the market for athletes-turned-actors is non-existent.
In the 1970s and ’80s, it was common for ex-jocks to find work in movies and television. Jim Brown did some solid work on the silver screen. O.J. Simpson’s acting was forgettable, though extensive. Guys like Merlin Olsen, Fred Dryer, and Alex Karras enjoyed long runs on television shows. Even Bob Uecker is better known nationally not for broadcasting or Lite Beer commercials but for starring in "Mr. Belvedere."
It’s difficult to think of a former athlete who has made a significant transition into acting over the last 15 years. Ray Allen showed promise in "He Got Game." Rick Fox did some nice work on HBO’s "Oz" and even Shaquille O’Neal has had some moments, most notably in "Blue Chips." But in every instance they were playing basketball players. Not much of a stretch there.
These days, most ex-athletes pursue more lucrative post-careers as broadcast as analysts. Thirty years ago, Howie Long likely would have followed the path of Olsen, a fellow Hall of Fame defensive lineman, and spent more time acting. Long has demonstrated some talent in that area, but since he likely earns in excess of $5 millon annually as a Fox analyst, pitchman, and corporate speaker, it makes sense that he devotes his time to those areas.
Part of A-Rod’s new deal involves William Morris finding him more endorsement deals. Earlier in his career, Rodriguez looked like the perfect jock endorser. Handsome, clean-cut, gregarious and bilingual, with awesome talent, he had his pick of corporate alliances and, indeed, had a growing stable that included Nike, Colgate-Palmolive, Amtrak, Pepsi, AT&T Wireless, Eagle Hardware, Speed Stick, and Armour Hot Dogs.
"You want to limit yourself to a few blue-chip companies that you believe in and can stand behind and hopefully have a relationship with for 15 or 20 years," Rodriguez told me in 2000 for a business-side profile that appeared in Street & Smith’s Pro magazine. "I don’t want to be a movie guy or a shoe guy. I want to be able to concentrate on baseball."
That interview took place months before he left the Seattle Mariners, signing a 10-year, $252 million contract with the Texas Rangers. At the time, A-Rod wondered what might happen to his endorsement potential if he played in New York like Derek Jeter.
"Derek’s a great player on a great team in the media captial of the world," he said. "That’s like a full house in poker."
So why is it that now that A-Rod is playing in New York, he seems to be holding a pair of deuces when it comes to marketing? It started with the Rangers deal, which cast him at best as a pawn for agent Scott Boras, a mercenary at worst. Traded to the Yankees, he’s continued to underachieve in the post-season. For all the comparisions A-Rod and Boras like to make between the player and marketing juggernauts Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan, most view A-Rod as exactly the opposite on the field: a guy lacking a killer instinct, who can’t perform in the clutch.
Then there’s A-Rod’s off-field antics. Jordan mostly got a pass in the media for his extramarital dealings, but A-Rod has faced a full-court press from the New York tabloids. Unlike the former Mrs. Jordan, Cynthia Rodriguez is not going quietly. There’s A-Rod’s strange mentor-pupil relationship with Pete Rose, as reported by ESPN.com, and his recent link to Madonna. Then there’s The New York Times story about A-Rod’s real estate dealings in Tampa that cast him as a virtual slumlord.
Perhaps it’s no wonder A-Rod’s endorsement deals have faded. It’s not like he’s hurting for money. But for a guy who wants to measure up to Woods and Jordan, at least off the field, it’s no wonder he’s turned to William Morris, which presumably will try to repair his image.
Or should that be his reputation? That’s what A-Rod used to talk about, back when he wore No.3 on his back in honor of Dale Murphy, the squeaky-clean former superstar for the Atlanta Braves, and modeled himself Cal Ripken, who became an American symbol for work ethic, loyalty and determination.
"I don’t believe in image; I believe in reputation," Rodriguez said in Pro magazine in 2000. "You can build an image overnight, like Dennis Rodman. You get a reputation like a Dan Marino or Cal Ripken or Joe Montana only after a long period of time. When I think or reputation, that’s a lot more valuable than image."